1896 Salvesen Steam Car

1896 Salvesen Steam Cart

This pioneer steam carriage was the oldest self-propelled vehicle in the 180-car collection assembled by the late John Cuthill Sword, a wealthy Scottish entrepreneur who had started his business life as van boy in his father's bakery and built up a business empire that encompassed many diverse companies, including the Western Scottish Motor Traction Company of Kilmarnock. He owned 'hundreds of buses, aeroplanes (he started the air ambulance service from Renfrew to the Western Isles that has saved so very many lives), a number of farms, two steam yachts, studs of hackneys and Arabian horses...'

After his death in 1960 at the age of 67, Sword's collection at East Balgray in Ayrshire was auctioned off in two landmark sales, several of the cars being acquired by George Milligen. These included this unique Salvesen steamer, designed and assembled by a member of the Salvesen family and used by him on his estate at Polmont 'as a sort of Land Rover of its day'.

The Salvesen family came to Scotland from Norway in the mid-19th Century, when Christian Salvesen founded the well-known shipping and trading company that bears his name in the port of Leith, on the River Forth near Edinburgh. The Polmont estate was near Grangemouth, the second port on the Forth adopted by the Christian Salvesen company.

Built on a substantial channel steel chassis, this remarkable Victorian steamer has an under-floor horizontal double-acting twin-cylinder power unit and a rear-mounted vertical coal-fired boiler; final drive is by side chains. The axles, springs, and iron-tyred wheels bear a similarity to those of Daimler's Coventry factory, and were perhaps supplied to Salvesen by John Stirling's Hamilton Carriage, Motor Car & Cycle Works. The latter was an long-established Scottish coachbuilder that bought Coventry Daimler chassis and fitted them with its own coachwork, finishing the first such car (fitted with a Panhard-Levassor engine) as early as January 1897, several weeks before the first Coventry Daimler car was sold.

Its wooden-sided body has two rows of bench seats facing one another, with the driver sitting at the front of the offside bench, controlling the carriage with a horizontal wheel incorporating a vertical handgrip. A substantial lever applies brake shoes to the iron tyres of the rear wheels. It is believed that George Milligen had the car running in the 1960s and drove it a short distance at his Norfolk home.

Descriptions & pictures by bonhams & flickr & other

Production Start 1896
Country of origin Great Britain